Do you think that there is an animal which is nearly immortal? Yes, they are called tardigrades. Any idea about tardigrades? Tardigrades, often called water bears or moss piglets, are near-microscopic animals with long, plump bodies and scrunched-up heads. I said they are immortal right? Do you know why? Before that let me tell you about the five mass extinctions that changed the world.
Earth has witnessed five mass extinctions were many species disappeared. They were:
- End Ordovician, 444 million years ago, 86% of species lost. The demise of the sea creatures called Graptolites over about a million years was probably caused by a short, severe ice age that lowered sea levels.
- Late Devonian, 375 million years ago, 75% of species lost. Trilobites were the most diverse and abundant animals. They survived the first great extinction but were nearly wiped out in the second.
- End Permian, 251 million years ago, 96% of species lost. It is known as “the great dying”, this was by far the worst extinction event ever seen. It nearly ended life on Earth.
- End Triassic, 200 million years ago, 80% of species lost. Of all the great extinctions, the one that ended the Triassic is the most enigmatic. No clear cause has been found.
- End Cretaceous, 66 million years ago, 76% of all species lost. Dinosaurs may have ruled the land during the Cretaceous period but the oceans belonged to the ammonites. Volcanic activity and climate change already placed the ammonites under stress. The asteroid impact that ended the dinosaur’s reign provided the final blow.
Tardigrades survived all the above mass extinctions with their remarkable survival skills. How is that possible?
About half a millimetre long they can survive freezing, total dehydration, radiation, and even the vacuum of space. Yes, they are capable of surviving almost anywhere – including space. They can also go without water for about 10 years, living as a dried-out shell. The tardigrade’s unique ability to repair DNA coupled with the already unique DNA the tardigrade has, work as a double-layered protection strategy. No, it is not over.
They can be frozen for decades and still reproduce when they wake up. Alcohol disrupts the structure of cell membranes when in direct contact for less than a minute, yet the tiny tardigrade has survived being immersed in alcohol for a full day. Another fact is they can don’t need to reproduce with a mate, they can clone themselves. Is it over? No. New species are still being discovered in surprising places, contributing further research about what tardigrades are. So there is no end for these awesome creatures.
Can they make Humans Strong?
Imagine what if the human has the above-said capabilities. That thought would bring a surprise and also a threat along with it. Before imagining let us think is it possible? We cannot say something is impossible because a few million years ago the great apes would have thought that it is impossible for its descendents to read this article. But now it is actually happening. You are reading this right. We are all the descendants of the great apes by the way. Coming to tardigrades, scientists have sequenced genomes of several species of tardigrades and they are discovering more about the mechanisms behind some of their incredible abilities – and their possible human applications. In a 2016 study, the protective protein within tardigrades, that provides resistance to radiation, were inserted into human cells and exposed to x-ray radiation. The cells with tardigrade proteins were 40% more resistant to damage than the control cells, opening the door to the possibility of tardigrade abilities being transferred to humans one day.